Music producer Phil Spector, who invented 'wall of sound', dies aged 81

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In this May 29, 2009 file photo, music producer Phil Spector sits in a courtroom for his sentencing in Los Angeles.
In this May 29, 2009 file photo, music producer Phil Spector sits in a courtroom for his sentencing in Los Angeles.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, Pool, File

Legendary US music producer Phil Spector has died aged 81, the California prison service said Sunday in a statement.

He was serving a prison sentence for the 2003 murder of Hollywood actress Lana Clarkson.

Spector revolutionised pop with his "wall of sound" music production formula, working with the likes of the Beatles, the Righteous Brothers and Ike, as well as Tina Turner.

California state prison officials said he died of natural causes at a hospital.

While most sources give Spector’s birth date as 1940, it was listed as 1939 in court documents following his arrest. His lawyer subsequently confirmed that date to The Associated Press.

Spector was convicted of murdering Clarkson in at his castle-like mansion on the edge of Los Angeles. After a trial in 2009, he was handed the sentenced of 19 years to life.

The star of “Barbarian Queen” and other B-movies was found shot dead in the foyer of Spector’s mansion in the hills overlooking Alhambra, a modest suburban town on the edge of Los Angeles.

Until the actress’ death, which Spector maintained was an “accidental suicide”, few residents even knew the mansion belonged to the reclusive producer, who spent his remaining years in a prison hospital east of Stockton.

Decades before, Spector had been hailed as a visionary for channelling Wagnerian ambition into the three-minute song, creating the “Wall of Sound” that merged spirited vocal harmonies with lavish orchestral arrangements to produce such pop monuments as “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “Be My Baby” and “He’s a Rebel.”

In rock’s early years, he cultivated an image of mystery and power with his dark shades and impassive expression.

Tom Wolfe declared him the “first tycoon of teen”. Bruce Springsteen and Brian Wilson openly replicated his grandiose recording techniques and wide-eyed romanticism, and John Lennon called him “the greatest record producer ever”.

The secret to his sound was an overdubbed onslaught of instruments, vocals and sound effects that changed the way pop records were recorded. He called the result: “Little symphonies for the kids.”

By his mid-20s he had logged nearly two dozen hit singles, which made him a millionaire.

In 1969, Spector was called in to salvage the Beatles’ “Let It Be” album, a troubled “back to basics” production marked by dissension within the band. 

Although Lennon praised Spector’s work, bandmate Paul McCartney was enraged, especially when Spector added strings and a choir to McCartney’s “The Long and Winding Road”. Years later, McCartney would oversee a remastered “Let it Be”, removing Spector’s contributions.

Spector worked on George Harrison’s acclaimed post-Beatles triple album “All Things Must Pass”, co-produced Lennon’s “Imagine”, and the less successful “Some Time in New York City”, which included Spector’s picture over a caption that read: “To Know Him is to Love Him.”

Spector also had a memorable film role; a cameo as a drug dealer in “Easy Rider”. The producer himself was played by Al Pacino in a 2013 HBO movie.